Immediately upon your first wave, kick, or elaborate dance routine, it's easy to tell if a Kinect game is firing on all cylinders and living up to its potential. Dance Central and parts of Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports are key examples of this, and even if the activity doesn't include one-to-one avatar animations, the harmonious sensation of the body as controller lets you submit yourself wholly to the camera-led revolution, even if only temporarily.
Conversely, when a Kinect game fails to properly capture and translate your motions into worthwhile game mechanics, the feeling is more akin to dissonance, and Deca Sports Freedom is easily the most egregious example to date. Deca Sports has successfully plodded along by marketing simple minigames to less discriminate Wii owners, but carelessly translating the same fundamentals to a camera-based system makes for a truly terrible and haphazard experience.
Deca Sports Freedom's problems emerge steadily and seemingly without end, but the primary issue is that the games offer little to none of that titular freedom. Rather than duplicate your actual movements to swat a volleyball, throw a dodgeball, or slash a kendo stick, your moves simply trigger canned actions and events in the game. It's a seemingly direct and truly lazy adaptation of the Wii aesthetic, but the nature of the crummy mechanics isn't as bad as the execution.
Tennis and volleyball both frequently miss your movements when gunning for the ball (especially backhand swings in the former), and both display extremely awkward animations, with automated player movement often putting you at a disadvantage. Aiming in archery feels painfully convoluted – why are we aiming several feet away from the screen? – and the game missed the firing motion more often than not in our experience. Even kendo doesn't offer one-to-one stick movement, and sometimes triggered attacks that we didn't even attempt to make.
But worst of all is paintball, a truly laughable first-person experience that is ill-explained and even more poorly realized. Using one hand to aim and the other to fire simply doesn't work, and the only way we could make any progress was to charge into a group of enemies and flail our arms wildly. Weak opponent AI is another constant concern, and to add insult to injury, the menu navigation is terribly frustrating and inconsistent. If you can't even get through the menus without cursing the title, what can you expect from the actual game?
We could spend another 500 words detailing Deca Sports Freedom's numerous and significant problems, but let's just say this: many of the included sports are essentially unplayable in any meaningful fashion, and the rest simply aren't fun. If Microsoft had put this out as the shining example of the Kinect's capabilities, we'd had already laughed it off as the biggest flop in gaming. Luckily, it's not: Deca Sports Freedom just happens to be creatively and conceptually bankrupt.
Dec 3, 2010